In the context of Missouri family law, there are many misconceptions as to what a legal separation is and when it is an appropriate remedy.
While in many ways similar to a divorce or action for dissolution of marriage, a legal separation is a separate and distinct legal action from a divorce that has one very significant difference at its conclusion. Unlike a divorce, at the conclusion of a judgment of legal separation the husband and wife remain married to each other. While orders and judgments of child custody, child support, maintenance and division of property and debts are entered in a legal separation, just like a divorce, the marriage itself will remain intact. In a divorce the marriage between husband and wife is terminated.
There are a few general reasons why clients may want to consider a legal separation as compared to a divorce. These include circumstances when the client truly believes that the marriage can be salvaged but circumstances exist at the time that make the current marital relationship untenable, such as a spouse with a substance abuse problem, and finances and property need to be separated to protect them from potential loss, and relevant child custody orders need to be entered; when a client is opposed to divorce on moral or religious grounds but needs the relief the Family Court can provide by entering orders of custody, support and property division; and in certain circumstances when a parties’ health insurance plan through his or her employer allows its employees to maintain a spouse on their health insurance plan when they are legally separated from that spouse but not when they are divorced, the parties may agree to a legal separation to maintain the current health insurance coverage on the spouse who would otherwise lose coverage in a divorce.
However, circumstances where an employer’s health benefit plans offered to employees allow for continued coverage even after the entry of a judgment of legal separation are become increasingly rare. Nonetheless in circumstances where the continuation of existing health insurance coverage is critical to employee’s spouse, it is worth investigating the details of the health insurance plan and discussing the option of a legal separation, in light of all of the marital circumstances, with a qualified Missouri family law attorney.
Clients who are contemplating filing a Petition for Legal Separation should be aware that their spouse can file their own Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in the same legal action, and after a contested hearing the family court judge can find that the marriage is actually irretrievable broken and enter a divorce judgment over their objection. In circumstances such as this where one party wants a legal separation and the other party wants a divorce, your family court judge will listen to and accept evidence on the parties’ respective positions and make a ruling on the status of the marriage based upon those factors put forth in our Missouri Statute.
In any event, clients should be aware that after 90 days from the entry of a decree of legal separation it can be converted into a divorce by the filing of a motion by either spouse.
But if after the decree of legal separation is entered and the parties desire to live together again as husband and wife and no longer be legally separated, they simply need to file a joint dismissal with the circuit clerk’s office where the judgment was entered, and that will operate to revoke those terms put forth in the judgment. However, this must be a joint dismissal signed by both parties.
If you are considering a divorce or legal separation in Missouri, it is vital that you seek the counsel of an experienced Missouri family law attorney. Please feel free to contact our office today for a free consultation to discuss the particulars of your situation.